In this week’s Lehigh Valley Foodie Friday, I had the chance to interview David Troxell, Executive Chef of Historic Hotel Bethlehem. Chef Troxell is responsible for not one, but two fantastic restaurants at the Hotel, and also has to manage room service dining requests.
Dining area number one is 1741 on the Terrace and it is a spot not to be missed. Here you’ll find an ambiance unlike any other in Lehigh Valley. The huge Palladian windows allow diners to peer at the Moravian Star set high above on the South Mountain or admire the quaint shops located on Main Street in Downtown Bethlehem. The Moravian tile flooring with a picturesque ceiling will leave you stunned with your surroundings.
If you’re looking for something a little more relaxed, try their other restaurant, The Tap Room. Here you’ll be treated to a 1920s vibe in an open, lobby type restaurant with signed pictures of all of the famous people that have stayed at the Hotel. And, you wouldn’t want to miss the music every Thursday by jazz musicians.
The Historic Hotel Bethlehem boasts 128 guest rooms and 14,000 square feet of meeting and banquet space which is perfect to host your next event. One of my favorite features of the hotel is the old-fashioned mail drop located by the elevators. And, it’s absolutely charming during the holiday season with decorations galore.
So, let’s get to the nuts and bolts of Chef Troxell as he gets open and candid about everything from his culinary background to his favorite Lehigh Valley restaurant, other than Historic Hotel Bethlehem of course!
Discover Lehigh Valley (DLV): How would you describe your cuisine? Historic Hotel Bethlehem (HHB): New American
DLV: What are some dishes that best exemplify your cooking style? HHB: I prepare a special dish, Braised Veal Osso Bucco with Veal Cheek Ravioli. Our menu at the Hotel is very big on fresh fish that is cut in house. A favorite is a Grilled Salmon served with sautéed fingerling potatoes and asparagus with a cremini mushroom buerre blanc. Also, a Historical Menu Item is the Seared Trout with a mixed lentil ratatouille.
DLV: To what extent are you involved with the local agricultural community, and does it influence how and what you cook? HHB: We work closely with Liberty Gardens, an organic local farm in Coopersburg, where we get our produce for both restaurants. You can’t beat the flavor of fresh produce over those that are chemically produced.
DLV: What are some of your favorite cooking ingredients? HHB: I would have to say all fresh herbs. I believe they really enhance any dish. From thyme, a universal herb you can use in many dishes, to sage which I feel is a very, underused herb.
DLV: When did you first develop an interest in the culinary arts? HHB: When I was 14 years old, I met Dario Chavez, my high school culinary arts instructor. Being in the kitchen with him, I knew on my first day that working with food is what I wanted to do. I drew such an interest from watching and working with him that I became inspired.
DLV: What are your "tools of the trade"? HHB: I only use one knife; it’s a Misono handmade Japanese and Sweden steel knife. It’s a 14.2 inch long knife that is my go to knife whether I’m mincing garlic or fileting a whole fish. I even named it “The Omen.” All the kitchen staff knows my knife by name!
DLV: Do you have any kitchen traditions? HHB: Before a busy rush or crazy night, inspiring the staff with a quick back of house meeting or pep talk helps motivate us for the night. Also, checking everyone’s station before a night of service to ensure they are ready for success.
DLV: Who are some of your culinary influences? HHB: First and foremost my childhood mentor, Dario Chavez. My former Executive Sous Chef, Jeffrey Smith. My college culinary arts instructor, Scott Kalamar. They have all played a very important role in my journey through the culinary field who I continue to keep in touch with.
DLV: What was your first job in the food service industry? HHB: A small Italian restaurant, I was 15 years old when I was hired to be a line cook working the flat top.
DLV: Do have any advice for aspiring chefs? HHB: Always be disciplined and dedicated to your craft. Constantly find ways to keep yourself motivated, it’s your survival. Learning new things is also a must, concepts are always changing and if you’re not educating yourself to the changes you’re not bettering yourself.
DLV: Where did the name of your restaurant come from? HHB: In 1741, fourteen Moravian missionaries came to Bethlehem. Here, they built a log cabin on the site of the current hotel. In this log cabin on Christmas Eve of 1741, Count Zinzendorf named the community "Bethlehem." The Moravians began to fulfill their dream of "schooling the unschooled" and converting the "heathen" indigenous peoples of this region in 1741. Moravians were so industrious and passionate about their mission that within 20 years they had built more than 50 buildings and were working on many different industries, all within the property surrounding the hotel.
DLV: Did you have formal training or "hard knocks" university? HHB: Technically, I had both. I attended the Culinary Arts program at local Northampton Community College graduating with honors in 2008. I learned a lot of my trade at the Hotel when I first started in 2004. I was very fortunate to work under great chefs here. Prior to formal training of school and my mentors, I worked in many different restaurants and at one point, two full-time cook positions to learn as much as I could.
DLV: Who are your mentors? HHB: Among my culinary influences, another positive mentor in my life is the General Manager of the Hotel Bethlehem, Dennis Costello. Not only has he been very supportive of me from the start, he also shares new concepts and managerial experience that I am constantly learning from. To me, to be successful in this industry, you need to have people in your life that are your support system.
DLV: What is the top selling item on your breakfast, lunch and dinner menus? HHB: For breakfast, it would have to be the Eggs Benedict. As all sauces are made in house, the hollandaise proves as a great touch on a classic breakfast item. Fresh smoked pork loin is also used for this dish, not processed ham. For lunch, the Seafood Cobb Salad is a favorite. With shrimp, crab, and lobster on top of fresh farm greens and vegetables, combined with our house made poppyseed dressing is a refreshing combination. For dinner, the crowd pleaser is our Seared Scallop dish on top of a seasonal mushroom risotto.
DLV: What do you feel sets you apart from other local restaurants? HHB: What sets the Historic Hotel Bethlehem apart from other restaurants is our guest service. We strive greatly for 100% guest satisfaction. We individualize our menus for specific parties or dinners to cater to the guests. When you come to our establishment, you are getting a touch of history while remaining elegant, upscale and fresh.
DLV: Besides your restaurant, what is your favorite Lehigh Valley restaurant? HHB: I would have to say the Edge, our close neighbor. They have a beautiful ambiance and I could order every item on their menu.
Historic Hotel Bethlehem 437 Main St. Bethlehem, PA 18018 610-625-2231 www.hotelbethlehem. com
Cuisine type: New American Hours of operation: 6 a.m. - 11 p.m.; small menu until bar closes; 24-hour in-room dining Average price range: $10 breakfast; $12 lunch; $30 dinner Number of seats: Tap Room – 80; 1741 Terrace - 60 Sunday brunch offered? Yes – Voted “Best in the Valley” by readers of the Morning Call newspaper the past five years in a row. Sunday brunch is accompanied by live music featuring harpsichord, harp, piano, jazz duos and sometimes the bagpipes. A wide assortment of carving and omelet stations, seafood, and some incredible desserts await you each week and reservations are highly recommended. Children's menu? Yes Outdoor dining available? Yes Alcohol available? Yes Handicapped accessible? Yes Take-out service? Yes Live music? Yes Wi-Fi accessible? Yes Credit cards accepted? Yes